Winnipeg Jewish Review: Joe Bova At HU Scopus Award Dinner: Whenever Jews & Italians Get Together You're In For A Great Meal

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Winnipeg Jewish Review Article on Joe Bova
Joe Bova and Scopus AwardFrom the room decor, to the table settings, to the Israeli food and wine, to the entertainers Chai Energy, to the speeches and videos, May 16's Scopus Award Gala at the Winnipeg Convention Centre was a tremendous success. Some 950 guests schmoozed and laughed and enjoyed this evening – a tribute to local philanthropist Joe Bova – til late in the night.  The atmosphere was relaxed and laughter filled, and the room remained full until the party ended at 10:45 pm.  Hebrew University President Menahem Ben–Sasson, on hand from Israel to personally present the Scopus Award to Mr. Bova, was overheard saying “This is paradise. I am in a bubble of friendship that I could not have anticipated. This is fantastic.”

A full review of the evening will appear in next week’s edition. The speech Joe Bova delivered on receipt of the Scopus Award was very moving and his portrayal of his conversations with Dor Kleinmann, the youngest son of Rami and Tali Keinmann (Rami is the National Director of  the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, based in Toronto) was not only memorable but rather remarkable. The speech by Joe Bova is reprinted in its entirety:

“The story of this evening began many years ago, as I crossed paths, or at times walked on the same path, with people like Izzy Asper, Harold Buchwald, Moishe Kaufman, Roy Lev, Ronna Goldberg, Abe Anhang, Dee Buchwald, Marjorie Blankstein, Gail Asper, Nathan Jacobson, and my good friend Michael Kuhl to mention just a few. However, it took form only after I met Rami Kleinmann.  I had been invited to a luncheon to meet the Shaliach or (for you non Hebrew speaking types) the Emissary of Jerusalem to the Jewish National Fund for Western Canada. I remember thinking about how I would address such an important person. Would I bow? Would I kiss his ring? Would I hug and kiss him on both cheeks?   As usual, when in doubt on Jewish matters, call Abe Anhang. “What do Jews do in situations like this?” I asked.  “Well,” he said, “try shaking hands” and that is how I met the Emissary. By the time the lunch was over, I had already become both a contributor to the State of Israel and another of the many volunteer fundraisers that work full time for free for His Excellency. Anyone who knows Rami, I am sure, knows how the rest of the story goes.

Soon after, came the invitation to dinner at his house.  At the dinner table, I was seated beside this 8 years old boy, who started dinner by throwing pieces of bread at me. Soon everybody was throwing bread at everybody around the table.  Eveline gave me “the look”. You know.... the one that says “not again...what did you get me into this time?” Rami explained.... and so I met Dor Kleinman and family. Now to be totally fair to Eveline, a few weeks before we had been invited to another dinner. As it turned out, it was sort of a Born Again Revival meeting. The kind you see on T.V. being held in Alabama, in an open field, under a big tent. Half way through the dinner I could hear that the Hallelujahs had a different fervour than the ones in Father Sam’s Holy Rosary Church. By the time we had gotten to the sermon, almost everyone around us was speaking in tongues. By the end.....well let’s not go there. Enough for me to say that it took some doing and a long time to bring Eveline back to normal.

Over dinner, Dor and I discussed many topics, such as the infinity of the Master of the Universe, the Italian national soccer team, the privilege of living in Canada, and most importantly the might of the Israeli army. I remember having a great dinner that evening, thanks to Tali’s great cooking and gracious hosting, and to the conversation with this child on topics that normally would be reserved for much older men. Later, as we were getting ready to leave, he came to the door to say good bye. He gave me a hug and he asked “Mr. Bova, is Italy at war with Israel?” Is Italy at war with Israel? This was my litmus test. I knew he liked me, but if my country was at war with Israel all bets were off. “Of course not. On the contrary, Italy and Israel enjoy some of the more friendly relations on the planet,” I explained. He was visibly relieved. Now, we could be friends. We went home, but Dor’s question remained with me. How could a child so young feel so threatened? How could he feel so alone, so isolated, so besieged? Why had he grown up so quickly? I decided to try and figure this one out.

The history of the Jews is well known. I learned about war and slavery. I learned about famine and bondage. I learned about war and Diaspora. I learned about the Inquisition and mass migration. I learned about ghettoes and pogroms. I learned about the Holocaust. I learned about “Never Again”, the birth of modern Israel, the wars that followed, and the continuing threat to its existence. At the end, I tried to reconcile this 3000 year old struggle for a nation to survive and still remain intact in its spirit and spirituality with the feelings of a little boy. Once again, I decided I would do my best to change a few things.

I have heard it said many times “Beware, for history will repeat itself”. Jews of all people have plenty of reasons to believe in this prophecy. However, it is also true that humankind has the capacity for transformational change. It was not long ago when human beings were bought and sold as slaves. It was not long ago when the Native People of this country could not vote. It was not long ago when our mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters could not vote in this country. So, we can change and we can change in ways where we cannot go back to the same prejudices. Today, Rami, you go and tell Gail Asper she can’t vote.
In fact, we have changed. When I came to Canada in 1962 I got a lucky break. Had I come to Canada 20 years earlier, as an Italian I might have had my property confiscated without cause and I could have been interned in camp Petawawa without a trial. Many Canadians of Italian origin were. Gail, relax...Italians are not looking for special status in the Museum for Human Rights. By 1962, the stereotyping and prejudices against Italians as a result of World War 2 were on the ebb. By that time, it had become the fashion to be Italian.Who would not want to be Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and so many others? Today, the same is happening to the Jewish community in North America. I ask you, who would not want to be Natalie Portman, Bob Dylan, Dustin Hoffman, Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, Steven Spielberg, and for the intellectuals in the crowd, what about Thomas Friedman, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, Martin Buber, Ada Yonath?  For that matter, who would not want to be Gail Asper, Sam Katz, the Mayor of Brandon Shari Decter Hirst, or my newfound friend and president of our foundation Faith Kaplan? I would love to think that Italians are still the “in thing”, but I also love this Jewish “in thing” in the world today. It transcends simple recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. It speaks of the acceptance of the Jewish People for who they are, for their faith, for their traditions, for their creative spirit, for their many contributions to the world, and for their boundless energy.

I am not naive. I know we still have to deal with those who paint swastikas on synagogues, who turn over head stones in Jewish cemeteries, who deny that there was ever a Holocaust or who pray for another one. I know that there are those who should know better, who allow their universities to discuss Israeli Apartheid as “de facto”. To them I say, visit the boardwalk or the beach in Tel Aviv and you will see Jew and Arab, white and black, living life side by side. Let them visit Jerusalem’s open market in the Old City and you will see Armenians and Christians, Jews and Arabs side by side all equally adept at emptying your pockets. Let them visit the Hebrew University campus and there they will see young people from all over the world, and especially the Arab world, learning how to make it a better place. It truly amazes me what we can hide behind the pretention of free speech.

Nevertheless, I am old enough to know that things are changing and for the better. Look around you. Tonight, the majority of the people here are not Jewish. They are here for a variety of reasons. Let’s face it, some of you are here because you could not say “no” to Gisele MacDonald. Some of you are here because you know that whenever Jews and Italians get together you are in for at least a great dinner. But, when it is all said and done, I know we are here to pay our respects to a great community, to a great organization, and above all to the work going on at the Hebrew University.  Who would have thought that the solutions to the scourge of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in our province would come via Jerusalem? Dr. Ben-Sasson, last summer I visited Israel and your university. I was impressed with the level and quality of research that is being conducted there. Let me assure you, that by the time Rami was finished with the tour, not only were we all feeling much better about the future of the human race but we were touched a lot deeper than we could ever have imagined. My accountant is still questioning that donation. I was awed as I met with your staff, your researchers, and your students. I was impressed with the contribution your university is making to every field of human endeavour. As I walked in the hallways of your campus, I could not help but think that here and now the Lord’s imposition on the people of Israel to “become a light unto the nations” had found its permanent home at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Dor, look around you. We are here, having come together from many walks of life, to give rather than to take, to heal rather than to hurt, to love rather than to hate, to understand rather than be understood. Tonight, I pray that you may grow old not in fear of the pending destruction of Israel, not in fear that the Jewish nation will face another Holocaust, but with an absolute confidence that as a faithful Jew you have many friends out there and you will never be alone again. I think that it was President Reagan who said, “The future does not belong to the faint of heart. It belongs to the brave.” I watched you grow up into a man. I know you have the courage to face this new world with an open mind and a welcoming heart. And if you do, I know the 21st century will belong to you.”

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